Rat Terrier

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white with patches of one or more colors
average, small
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Pros Cons

  • wonderful family companion

  • easy to groom

  • great watchdog

  • can be stubborn

  • chases small pets


The Rat Terrier is vivacious, smart and loyal dog created in the United States. It was initially developed as a working farm dog to keep farms free of rats and mice and gradually it grew increasingly popular as a much beloved family pet. Today the Rat Terrier is a trendy breed in its homeland where it’s is treasured mostly for its pleasant temperament and unpretentiousness in grooming.


The Rat Terrier is the invention of American farmers of the XVIII century. They required a small breed that was not only able to clear their barns, silos and fields of household rodents, but also could be used for hunting squirrels, hare, and other small animals. Farmers didn’t care much about keeping records of their breeding experiments and primarily concentrated on working talents of their dog. That’s why the information about the early stages of the breed’s development didn’t reach us.

The full list of Terrier-type breeds, which played a certain role in its invention include the Manchester Terrier, the Smooth Fox Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the now-extinct English White Terrier. It’s also highly likely that some non-Terrier breeds were added to the mixture. The Beagle was used to enhance the hunting abilities and scent of the Rat Terrier and the dogs inherited its agility from the Whippet and the Italian Greyhound. As likely as not, the specimens of the Jack Russell Terrier, the Pointer and the Cocker Spaniel can be observed in the lineage of this dog. Some breeders preferred more miniature Terriers and in order to breed it down in size introduced the Chihuahua and possibly the Dachshund to the cross.

Over the years of selective breeding the Rat Terrier shaped into a superb working dog with well-balanced and amicable temperament. However at that point it greatly varied in appearance and was used mainly as a highly proficient ratter.

The most famous specimen of the Rat Terrier was owned by Theodore Roosevelt, America’s 26thPresident. Rumours had it that his dog nicknamed Skip did a great job clearing the White House of rats in the early XX century. Although the latter story is nothing but a myth it’s a well-established fact that it is Roosevelt who granted this breed its current name. The President’s admiration of his dog contributed a great deal into promotion of the Rat Terrier, which had already been fairly common by that time. The breed became very trendy in the first three decades of the XX century and was one of the most numerous dogs in the USA.

As the result of the Great Depression and followed World War II many American farmers went ruin and modernisation of agricultural industry in the post-war years only speeded up the process of destruction of old farming traditions. The Rat Terrier lost its original purpose and its number dwindled substantially.

Luckily enough, the breed gradually earned sizeable following as a household pet so it has never been threatened with a direct extinction. There is no universal agreement among major kennel clubs as to how many varieties of the Rat Terrier do exist. The United Kennel Club (UKC) acknowledges two distinct size types of the breed, the Standard and Miniature (including the Toy Rat Terrier). The American Kennel Club (AKC) granted its partial recognition to the breed in 2010, but it excludes from registration the Toy Rat Terrier and makes no differences between specimens of different sizes. In the recent decades the Rat Terrier is experiencing the surge in popularity as a pet, although many dogs are still used for hunting and vermin control.


The Rat Terrier greatly differs from most Terriers in terms of temperament. Being a true terrier in everything that concerns tenacity and work drive the breed is noted to have much softer and biddable demeanour, which makes it suitable for the role of a family dog. Furthermore it commonly becomes so intensely attached to its mater and family that it is apt to suffer from serious separation anxiety. When correctly socialised the breed is relatively good with children and can bear their moderate mischiefs. At the same time its reserves of patience are definitely limited and the dog won’t hesitate to defend itself from extreme abuse.

The Rat Terrier has mixed reputation with unfamiliar people. Some specimens treat all human beings as friends. Others display considerably more wariness towards strangers. Essentially the human aggressiveness is usually the fault of some irresponsible breeders, which pay all attention to profits and don’t care about the quality of their dogs. It always stays on alert and usually can be turned into a wonderful watchdog. The breed is probably too small to make any use as a guardian but some of its members quite successfully serve as a personal protector.

The canine aggressiveness meets rarely in the Rat Terrier. Most breed members enjoy having a permanent companion among other canines. Nonetheless this dog doesn’t like to share its staff such as food and toys and will defend it from encroachment of other dogs at all costs. It can become a source of possible conflict between unfamiliar dogs and their owners should be aware of it. The Rat Terrier tolerates other animals of similar size or larger but will resolutely pursue and exterminate household rats, hamsters, or guinea pigs. Anyway it needs to be accurately socialised with a home cat to guarantee their peaceful co-existence.

Health Problems

The most common problems for the breed include:

· demodex mange;

· epilepsy;

· seizures;

· skin allergies;

· food allergies;

· patellar luxation;

· canine hip dysplasia;

· alopecia;

· hernias;

· eye problems;

· cryptorchidism;

· cleft palate.


The Rat Terrier is pretty undemanding when things concern its grooming. Its straight short coat should be brushed regularly but rather infrequently. Other than that, its maintenance consists of such standard procedures as nail clipping and teeth brushing.

This dog is an average shedder although some specimens tend to lose considerable amount of hair during seasonal shedding. Allergy sufferers or extreme fans of cleanness should set their choice on other breed.


The Rat Terrier is much easier to train than majority of Terriers. The breed can be frequently seen at various canine events and it’s especially successful at agility and obedience trials. This quick-witted dog usually strives to make its owner happy although it sometimes resorts to selective listening. Moreover some individual specimens are prone show a great deal of stubbornness if not obstinacy.

The Rat Terrier quickly gets bored by numerous repetitions of one task so training sessions should be short but regular. Be aware that rough-housing will only aggravate the issue with its mulishness and it will simply refuse to continue the lesson. The handler will gain maximum results with this dog if he motivates it to work with reward-based training techniques.


The Rat Terrier is very playful and lively breed and should be provided with quite a bit of daily brisk activity. Despite its moderate size it’s incredibly athletic and animated and should be walked for at least 30 to 45 minutes a day. Of course, the dog will be content with a lengthy walk, and it craves for some more intensive activity.

This breed will become a willing and hardy companion for a jogger, but it’s actually up for any adventure you can to offer, including mountain climbing or canoeing. The Rat Terrier, which is treated as a lap dog, is highly prone to display such behavioural problems as hyperactivity, destructiveness, excessive barking and nervousness.